Marathon pilgrimage: youth director prays at all 91 parishes of the diocese in 50 hours

by Susan Moses

North Texas Catholic

March 5, 2020

Jason Spoolstra in his carJason Spoolstra in his car
Diocesan youth minister Jason Spoolstra drives to a parish in the early morning of Feb. 28, 2020 as part of a three-day trip to visit all 91 parishes in the Diocese of Fort Worth. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)  Check out the marathon pilgrimage photo gallery


FORT WORTH — “There’s a reason no one has done this before,” said Jason Spoolstra with a laugh, after visiting every parish in the Diocese of Fort Worth in just over two days. “It’s crazy, but I’m willing to be crazy for Jesus Christ and the Church.”

From Feb. 28 – March 1, Spoolstra successfully completed a pilgrimage that took him to all 91 parishes of the diocese in 50 hours, in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Diocese of Fort Worth.

The idea to pray at each parish during the 50th anniversary began percolating in the mind of the diocesan director of youth, young adults, campus, and singles ministry back in November.

Explaining why the idea appealed to him, he said, “I am a product of the diocese. I was born and raised here, and it’s where I was brought into the faith. I received all my sacraments here. I worked virtually my whole life here; by and large I have served the Church through the diocese…. I owe so much to this diocese. It’s sort of a love letter and a thank-you to the diocese.”

In December, he plotted his route through the 28 counties of the diocese.

At 6 a.m. on Friday, Feb. 28, he knelt on the front steps of St. Patrick Cathedral. Before the workday began for most of North Texas, he had prayed at a dozen nearby parishes.

By that afternoon, he left the Metroplex for parishes north and west. His friend Christopher West, a theology teacher at Nolan Catholic High School, joined him in the evening for the remainder of his journey, assisting with logistics and social media updates.

When the pilgrims could, they entered the sanctuary to pray. If a church was locked, they prayed outside the church.

Spoolstra enters Our Mother of MercySpoolstra enters Our Mother of Mercy
Diocesan youth minister Jason Spoolstra walks into Our Mother of Mercy Church to pray in the early morning of Feb. 28, 2020, as part of a three-day trip to visit all 91 parishes of the Diocese of Fort Worth. (NTC/Juan Guajardo)


At each parish, Spoolstra recited a prayer for Eucharistic Adoration he selected from the missal because it dovetailed with the theme of the 50th anniversary — The Eucharist Makes Us the Church. He also received prayer intentions before and during his trip.

Even though the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parishioner was traveling to many of these parishes for the first time, he said, “I was not a stranger. I was coming home every time. I felt peace and I felt at home because of Jesus Christ, present in the Eucharist.”

As midnight neared on Friday, Spoolstra had visited 43 parishes, and he and West checked into a Wichita Falls hotel for a few hours’ sleep. However, the next day, as they drove through the western reaches of the diocese, the rural parishes were farther apart. They started to doubt whether they would return to St. Patrick Cathedral in time for 8 a.m. Mass on Sunday.

Spoolstra said, “Before I started [the pilgrimage], and even during it, I put my trust in the Lord. I said, ‘Lord, even if I don’t make my time of 50 hours, it’s okay, because You’ve got me, and as long as You keep me safe and sound and I bear fruit from this, it’s okay.’ And He said, ‘Oh, I got you, Jason. Don’t worry.’”  

Tired but determined, Spoolstra and West pushed through Saturday night, concentrating on praying with intent despite their exhaustion. They took a 45-minute nap in Hillsboro at 4:15 a.m. early Sunday, before stopping at the remaining six parishes. The pilgrims arrived at St. Patrick at 7:45 a.m. and attended Mass as planned.

Reflecting on his 1,500-mile journey through the diocese, Spoolstra was impressed by the “rich diversity of the diocese, on every conceivable level” — ethnicity, culture, architecture, geography — “but all united in the Eucharist.”

This was one of many pilgrimages that Spoolstra has taken, both in the U.S. and abroad, and he encourages others to do likewise.

“I want to inspire people to go,” beginning with St. Patrick Cathedral, said Spoolstra. “There are so many beautiful shrines, basilicas, holy sites right in our own backyard that some don’t even know, hidden gems that people aren’t aware of.

“A pilgrimage is a time for renewal in prayer. It’s not only the physical destination; it’s a mental and spiritual destination, a chance to renew yourself in prayer,” he said.

Spoolstra is not planning any other marathon pilgrimages, but he said, “I’ll never say ‘never.’ With things like this, the Holy Spirit is inspiring and guiding me. I’ll listen and see what happens.”

Jason Spoolstra behind the wheel

FORT WORTH — “There’s a reason no one has done this before,” said Jason Spoolstra with a laugh, after visiting every parish in the Diocese of Fort Worth in just over two days. “It’s crazy, but I’m willing to be crazy for Jesus Christ and the Church.”

Published (until 3/5/2036)